Head and Neck Cancer Risk Factors Identified Among 9/11 Responders

Dentistry Today


Researchers at the Rutgers School of Public Health have identified factors that may put people who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center (WTC) at increased risk for cancers of the head and neck, including oral, oropharyngeal, and laryngeal cancers. 

The study was the first of its kind to examine the impact of WTC-related exposure and behavioral risk factors like smoking and alcohol use on head and neck cancer risk among WTC general responders.

Responders who worked in the protective services as well as other responders who arrived on September 11 as opposed to later are at increased risk of these cancers. Also, post-9/11 years of cigarette smoking and higher numbers of sex partners, a risk factor for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, each were significantly associated with head and neck cancer. 

Contrary to studies in the general population, heavy alcohol consumption was not associated with head and neck cancers in the study.

These results suggest there are opportunities to reduce the risk of head and neck cancers among WTC-exposed populations, the researchers said, such as smoking cessation or HPV education and vaccination programs. These findings also should help WTC Health Program clinicians identify individuals who may be at highest risk. 

“There is no screening for head and neck cancers, but establishing a risk factor profile specific to WTC general responders will help us to identify those at higher risk, with hopes to improve detection and, in turn, treatment outcomes,” said lead author Bover Manderski, PhD, MPH, who also is a member of the Center for Tobacco Studies.

The results were part of a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WTC Health Program that aimed to understand risk factors for head and neck cancer among WTC Health Program General Responder Cohort members.

“Our study, and many others, demonstrate that even now, almost two decades after the 9/11 attacks, new health consequences of the WTC attacks are emerging. This underscores the importance of long-term health monitoring of disaster survivors and responders.” 

The study, “Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer in the World Trade Center Health Program General Responder Cohort: Results from a Nested Case-Control Study,” was published by Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

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